BETTING IT ALL ON KANSAS GAMBLING

RIVAL GROUPS FATTEN LAWMAKERS’ WAR CHESTS TO PROMOTE THEIR VIEWS ON EXPANDED GAMING

Sunday, March 12, 2006
Section: MAIN NEWS
Edition: main
Page: 1A
BY STEVE PAINTER AND BRENT D. WISTROM, Eagle Topeka bureau
Memo: Eagle Exclusive – First with the News

TOPEKA – Here’s what’s changed in Kansas’ gambling laws over six years: absolutely nothing.

Here’s what’s changed about gambling contributions to legislative campaigns over six years: They’re up more than 300 percent.

Well-financed gambling interests are waging an increasingly expensive political war over where Kansans will spend their gambling dollars, according to an Eagle analysis of campaign reports.

On one side are people interested in building new casinos and adding slot machines to dog racetracks.

On the other side are American Indian tribes already operating casinos and seeking to keep out the competition.

Far down the contributor list is a Wichita-based group, Stand Up for Kansas, that opposes gambling on both moral and economic grounds. The analysis did not include contributions from individuals who may have strong feelings for or against casino gambling.

Collectively, major gambling interests have given more than $700,000 to House and Senate candidates since 2000 and $98,150 to candidates for statewide office, most of that to Gov. Kathleen Sebelius.

Another $123,250 went to party committees that distribute money to candidates. Unlike candidate campaign committees, party committees have no contribution or spending limits.

“The money that is paid into campaigns is just enormous,” said former Senate President Dave Kerr, who fears it could lead to corruption.

A national trend

The rapid rise in contributions could be fueled by increasing acceptance of legalized gambling, a supportive governor or close votes on expanded gambling in the Legislature in recent years. Pressure to increase school funding to comply with a Kansas Supreme Court order also could be a factor.

More than a dozen other states, including all that border Kansas, have seen sharp increases in gambling campaign donations, according to the Institute on Money in State Politics, a nonprofit research organization based in Helena, Mont.

The trend also shows up in national politics, according to the Washington-based Center for Public Integrity.

“It’s an industry that’s willing to donate millions. It doesn’t matter that much when they can reap billions,” said Alex Knott, the group’s political director.

Kansas lawmakers say the contributions don’t sway their votes. Rather, they say, competing gambling interests help fund the campaigns of lawmakers who agree with their positions.

“You don’t buy a vote,” said Rep. Jim Ward, D-Wichita, who has received $1,800.

He supports casinos if local voters approve.

‘It’s high-stakes now’

In 2000, companies and individuals seeking to expand casino gambling beyond tribal lands spent less than $24,000 on House races and less than $55,000 on Senate races.

Leading the pack were the owners of two dog tracks where betting is allowed, Wichita Greyhound Park and the Woodlands in Kansas City, represented by Kansas Racing LLC.

Four years later, contributions jumped to more than $71,000 in House races and almost $143,000 in Senate races.

“It’s high-stakes now. This is about big money,” said Sen. Jean Schodorf, R-Wichita, who has received contributions totaling $7,950 from both sides because she was seen as a swing vote.

The track owners contend they need revenue from slot machines at the tracks to cover money-losing dog races.

Other interests had joined the pursuit of casino gambling by 2004, most notably River Falls Gaming, an investor group out of Texas, and Butler National Corp. of Olathe, an avionics and aircraft modification company that has veered off into tribal business management services, including gambling. Both hope to develop Kansas casinos if lawmakers vote to allow casinos off tribal lands.

American Indian tribes, who opened four casinos in northeast Kansas in the 1990s under compacts negotiated with the state, countered with sharply increased campaign donations to protect their territory.

The Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation led the way with almost $250,000 in contributions over three election cycles, supplemented by more than $85,000 from Harrah’s, the nationwide gambling company that manages the Prairie Band’s casino north of Topeka.

A comparatively small amount – $27,700 – came from Stand Up for Kansas, a Wichita-based group that opposes all forms of legalized gambling.

Money for schools

The Legislature is under pressure from the Supreme Court to find hundreds of millions of dollars in new money for public schools.

The Senate is scheduled to debate expanding gambling in Kansas next week to help raise money for schools without raising taxes.

In 2002 and 2003, the House narrowly approved gambling bills, only to have the Senate balk. After years of debate, the House votes were the first semblance of success for non-Indian gambling interests.

In addition, Gov. Kathleen Sebelius supports gambling as a way to increase state revenues and attract tourists. Her predecessor, former Gov. Bill Graves, opposed it.

“The gaming interests think they have a better chance,” said Sen. Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, a candidate for lieutenant governor in the Republican primary who has consistently opposed casino gambling.

Wagle has received $4,050 from major anti-expansion interests over two Senate election cycles.

Wagle and her husband own buildings that lease space to nonprofit groups that operate bingo parlors, but she said her opposition to expanded gambling goes beyond any threat to her business interests.

“Certainly my sales would be affected, but so would sales at all retail establishments,” she said.

A Sebelius spokeswoman said gambling-related campaign contributions did not determine the governor’s position on the topic.

“She holds the same views today as she did as a legislator. Fundraising never has and never will have anything to do with the positions Governor Sebelius takes on any issue,” press secretary Nicole Corcoran said.

Sen. Phil Journey, who has received $3,650 in gaming campaign contributions, said both pro- and anti-expansion contributions are skyrocketing because the two sides are trying to keep up with each other.

“It is akin to mutually assured destruction,” he said.

The contributions will continue to rise, he said, until a bill passes or one of the sides gives up – something that’s unlikely, with each side having already invested hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“This issue is decided on the narrowest of margins,” Journey said.

The donations flow

Phil Ruffin, the Wichita Greyhound Park owner who is developing a Las Vegas casino with businessman Donald Trump, bought pari-mutuel tracks in Wichita and Frontenac several years ago on the chance that the Legislature would someday approve slot machines.

The Wichita track is unprofitable, and the southeast Kansas track is closed.

Donating to decision-makers just makes sense, he said.

“We contribute to both sides. We contribute to Democrats and Republicans. And of course the governor, we always contribute,” he said. “You have to have friends on both sides of the aisle.”

State law limits donors to giving no more than $500 for each House candidate, $1,000 for each Senate candidate and $2,000 for each statewide candidate in each primary and general election reporting period.

But donors can have family members and business interests also give the maximum donation. Several of Ruffin’s family members and his companies donated the maximum legal amount to multiple candidates.

All told, Ruffin and entities linked to him contributed $196,025 from 2000 to 2004.

As for competition from American-Indian tribes, Ruffin said: “They want a monopoly. That’s the name of their game.”

Ron Hein, lobbyist and spokesman for the Prairie Band, owner of the state’s largest casino, said that money the tribe raises stays in Kansas and makes a huge difference for the tribe.

“It’s their primary source of revenue,” he said.

Unemployment on the reservation has dropped from 78 percent to 6 percent since the casino opened, he said. Profits from the casino have helped fund a Head Start program, housing for the elderly, bridge and road construction and law enforcement salaries.

Lawmakers walk a line

A group of legislators came under criticism in January for accepting campaign donations from gambling interests when they oppose expansion of gambling.

Park City mayor Dee Stuart called a news conference calling it the height of hypocrisy. Earlier this month, a group called Citizens 4 Recall launched a petition drive in an attempt to recall lawmakers.

Legislators defended accepting the contributions, saying they are in agreement with Indian casino operators in wanting to block expansion of casinos.

Lawmakers, current and former, said campaign money rarely changes minds.

Sen. Donald Betts, D-Wichita, said that when he gets a contribution from an interest group he disagrees with, he calls them to say he will vote against their issue. Then he asks if they want him to send the money back.

“It’s up to them, mainly,” he said. “A lot of the time they usually tell me to keep it.”

He received $6,500, mostly from pro-expansion interests.

Rep. Ted Powers, a Mulvane Republican who received $4,000, said public opinion has more power than campaign money.

He consistently votes no on gambling. But he said a public opinion survey he sent out shows more than half of his constituents want casino gambling. A Sumner County vote also showed the public favors gambling in his area.

“You have to pretty much stay with the people who got you here,” he said, sitting at his desk in the House chamber.

But he doesn’t think gambling is good for the public, and for that reason, he leans toward voting no.

“I’m going to get burned either way I go,” he said.

Schodorf, who opposed gambling in the past, said she returned a $1,000 contribution from Ruffin during her first year.

She consistently voted “no” until last year’s special session on school funding, when she voted for a gambling bill.

Swayed by contributions?

No, she said. Back in her district she frequently is asked about gambling by the cashier at a restaurant she likes, a meat cutter and produce clerk at her grocery store and her hairdresser, all of whom say they go to casinos in Oklahoma and Kansas City.

“That has sort of opened my eyes that there are people who I associate with who want a casino in Wichita,” she said.

Reach Steve Painter at (785) 296-3006 or spainter@wichitaeagle.com.

How Gambling contributions stack up

SENATE

Here is how much local senators received from 2000 to 2005 from groups that oppose or support expanded gambling:

District Senator Anti- Pro Total

16 Peggy Palmer $3250 $500 $3750

25 Jean Schodorf $3000 $4950 $7950

26 Phil Journey $3650 $0 $3650

27 Les Donovan $3850 $1000 $4850

28 Mike Petersen $850 $0 $850

29 Donald Betts $1200 $5300 $6500

30 Susan Wagle $4050 $0 $4050

31 Carolyn McGinn $2800 $0 $2800

32 Greta Goodwin $4500 $250 $4750

HOUSE

Here is how much local representatives received from 2000 to 2005 from groups that oppose or support expanded gambling:

District Representative Anti- Pro Total

72 Tom Thull $1700 $1400 $3100

78 Ed Trimmer $250 $250 $500

74 Carl Krehbiel $2850 $0 $2850

75 John C. Grange $2050 $1200 $3250

77 Everett Johnson $2200 $0 $2200

80 Bill McCreary $3450 $0 $3450

81 Ted Powers $3100 $900 $4000

82 Don Myers $2450 $0 $2450

83 Jo Ann Pottorff $2850 $500 $3350

84 Oletha Faust-Goudeau $300 $900 $1200

85 Steve Brunk $2450 $0 $2450

86 Judith Loganbill $1150 $1575 $2725

87 Bonnie Huy $3700 $0 $3700

88 Jim Ward $150 $1650 $1800

89 Melody McCray-Miller $650 $400 $1050

90 Steve Huebert $2500 $0 2500

91 Brenda Landwehr $3150 $0 $3150

92 Nile Dillmore $1350 $1150 $2500

93 Richard F. Kelsey $1300 $0 $1300

94 Joe McLeland $3250 $0 $3250

95 Tom Sawyer $650 $2650 $3300

96 Willa DeCastro $3550 $250 $3800

97 Dale Swenson $2600 $575 $3175

98 Geraldine Flaharty $150 $1500 $1650

100 Mario Goico $1750 $0 $1750

103 Delia Garcia $250 $800 $1050

105 Jason Watkins $500 $0 $500

Source: Campaign finance reports

Top senate recipients statewide

Most overall gambling contributions, 2000 to 2004

District Senator Total

11 John Vratil $10,300

19 Anthony Hensley $9,850

Most contributions from pro-expansion groups

19 Anthony Hensley $9,100

36 Janis Lee $8,600

Most contributions from anti-expansion groups

30 Susan Wagle $4,050

14 Dwayne Umbarger $3,850

Top house recipients statewide

Most overall gambling contributions, 2000 to 2004

District Representative Amount

54 Doug Mays $4,200

116 Dennis McKinney $3,250

Most contributions from pro-expansion groups

51 Michael Burgess $3,450

109 Clay Aurand $3,150

Most contributions from anti-expansion groups

54 Doug Mays $6,450

51 Michael Burgess $4,950

Source: Campaign finance reports

Here is the amount of money that has been given to legislative candidates for elections in 2000 and 2004. Pro means in favor of expanded gambling; anti- means against expanded gambling.

Who gave the most?

WHO GAVE THE MOST? FOR EXPANSION

Phil Ruffin, owner of Wichita Greyhound Park, who wants to add slot machines:

$196,025

AGAINST EXPANSION

Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation, which owns an existing casino north of Topeka:

$249,350

WHO GOT THE MOST?

Among state senators from Sedgwick County, here’s who received the most donations. For the top recipients in Kansas, see Page 5A.

Jean Schodorf

$7,950, split between both sides. She is seen as a swing vote.

Donald Betts Jr.

$6,500, all but $1,200 from pro-expansion groups

Susan Wagle

$4,050 from anti-expansion groups

ABOUT THIS REPORT

Campaign contributions in this report include those from companies, individuals and American Indian tribes that have a stake in whether Kansas gambling laws are changed. It does not include contributions from individuals who may have personal views on gambling or from contract lobbyists with multiple clients that include gambling interests.


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